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The Power of Peer Support

“I am very thankful to have taken part in this meeting. Having someone with an outside perspective and experience with the same issues I’ve been dealing with was very helpful and a new experience to me. I hope to connect with more people this way. Thanks for listening.”

“This experience was a blessing; I came away from the meeting feeling better. I related to others and learned more about depression as well as some techniques for recovery.”

“It is so refreshing to hear other people who are also experiencing problems with depression and hear what they do to help themselves.”

These post meeting, anonymous participant comments provide a powerful testimony to peer support, and for me they  illustrate just a few of the reasons peer support is being applied so successfully.

Reason 1: It Works

Individuals who receive peer support do as well or better than those receiving conventional treatment for depression (see Pfeiffer. et. al, 2011). Peer support has also been shown to reduce hospital readmissions by 73% in a 2011 study by Optum/Yale Medical School.  Our own recent study of web conference-based peer support groups participants reported a 69% reduction in hospital readmissions and a 49% reduction in the use of emergency room visits for behavioral health issues, and peer support is being applied to chronic conditions such as diabetes and traumas such as post-cardiac events.

Reason 2: Lived Experience—and More

Certified Peer Specialists (CPSes)  have “lived experience” with their condition, giving them credibility with participants that few other member of the health team will possess. They’ve achieved and maintained their recovery, providing a constructive, positive role model for participants and reducing stigma issues during their meetings.

This lived experience isn’t enough, however. To become a CPS, an individual  must receive 40 to 120 hours of training on how to help others, passed a certification exam, and in some states, they must meet continuing education requirements. Most CPSes receive clinical supervision from a licensed professional; our CPSes are clinically supervised, and must also pass training in how to operate online meetings.

Reason 3: The Participants Themselves

Finally, although Certified Peer Specialists are skillful and inspiring people, a careful reading of our anonymous comments brings out something that might not be expected. The participants are helping each other to heal: it is powerful to talk with others who are having a similar experience.

As our participants have noted, peer support:

  • Provides external perspectives from fellow sufferers
  • Helps people not to feel alone or that their problems are unique
  • Help individuals learn about new ways to deal with their problem
  • Reduces stigma, Inspires and motivates, and restores hope
  • Gives individuals the opportunity to experience the satisfaction of helping someone else
  • Attempts to bring out the best in each person involved
  • Is a safe place for individuals to share their fears and concerns

Peer Support—a Powerful Medicine

Peer support creates human to human connections where people with a common issue can assist and comfort each other—powerful medicine indeed!

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